The Flyers have a history of drafting tough, rugged players out of Western Canada. Think no further than Bob Clarke himself, Ron Sutter or even Ron Hextall: players that were defined by their grit, work ethic and passion for the game, even more so than their talent.
At the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the organization added another intriguing prospect from the northern prairies with the selection of Saskatoon Blades enforcer Garrett Klotz in the third round. Klotz, a raw talent who continues to emerge as one of the top fighters in the WHL, has also been fighting critics throughout his hockey life.
The 6'6’’, 235-pound forward scrapped his way to the major junior level from the midget AA ranks, after being cut from his AAA team. Since arriving in the WHL two seasons ago, he has had to battle to prove that he belongs. This season has been a real challenge, on multiple fronts.
|Garrett Klotz was selected by the Flyers in the third round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. (photo courtesy Saskatoon Blades) |
The Blades are one of the youngest teams in the WHL, and struggled mightily through the first half of the season. On top of that, Klotz tore the MCL in his left knee just prior to the holiday break, and remains on the injured list. He is waiting anxiously for a chance to get back on the ice, hoping to help his team climb back into playoff contention.
"It's not easy watching from the sidelines," Klotz explained. "It's frustrating, especially when the team is struggling and you just want to get out there and do your best to try to turn things around."
Klotz feels that he still has plenty to prove, as well.
"I think I've made a lot of progress over the past few years, in terms of becoming an overall player," he continued. "I don't want to be known as just a fighter or a checking line guy, because I have a lot to offer. I think I can help [the Flyers organization] in a number of ways. That's what I want to continue to show."A "Phan" from Birth
Klotz was born on November 27, 1988 in Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan and a cultural and commercial metropolis for the southern portion of province, as well as adjacent areas in the neighboring U.S. states of North Dakota and Montana.
"Regina is a great city, a really diverse place," Klotz explained. "It was a great place to grow up. It's also a great hockey city with a lot of history behind it. It's just kind of a natural thing to get into playing hockey there, just something that you do. I started playing as a young kid and just went through the stages, novice all the way up to midget. And, eventually, I made it to junior."
Like most aspiring hockey players, Klotz credits his parents for introducing him to the game and helping him begin his career.
"My parents were huge influences on my career, helping me get started and making a lot of sacrifices so I could play and improve over the years," he said. "I wouldn't be here doing this now if it weren't for them. My dad played, but never made it to one of the top levels. But, we all love the game."
Saskatchewan is a centrally-located Canadian province with no professional team to call its own. In fact, the closest NHL city is Calgary, which is located roughly 475 miles (or a nine hour drive) to the west.
"Kids up in Regina pick different teams and players as their favorites," Klotz explained. "A lot of them stick with the Calgary Flames, or other Canadian teams. I always loved the Flyers. They were my top team since I was a kid.
"I grew up watching the Flyers in the mid-90s, when they had players like Eric Lindros, [John] LeClair, Rod Brind'Amour and Eric Desjardins. Lindros was my favorite player. I had a big collection of his hockey cards. I always admired his style of play, especially as a bigger guy myself. Those teams were my favorite, though. That's why it was such a thrill for me to be drafted by the Flyers and become part of the organization."
The road ahead, however, would prove to be a difficult one.
Falling Down, Getting Up
Some players suffer setbacks and never recover. For Klotz, that was never an option.
The rugged forward came up through the ranks in his hometown, eventually making it to the midget AA level with the Regina Pat Canadians, for whom he had a very strong campaign as a 16-year-old in 2003-04. However, when the time came for him to move up to the AAA level the following season, he failed to make the cut.
"I had played AA the year before, and when I moved up to AAA, they basically cut me and told me I wasn't good enough," he said. "That was really tough, basically to have that happen. It's not easy to hear those things, but I used it to motivate me."
Klotz went back to AA, where he would go on to have another strong season in 2004-05. Despite the strides he had made and his intriguing size, he was not drafted by a WHL team. But that did not mean that the scouts weren't watching.
After the season, Klotz was signed as a free agent by the Red Deer Rebels. Brent Sutter, who now serves as the head coach of the New Jersey Devils, was the Rebels' general manager and coach at the time and saw potential in Klotz's abilities.
"I owe him a lot for taking that chance," Klotz explained. "I was not drafted, but [the Rebels] had followed me and signed me, and gave me the opportunity to play in the WHL. I am still very grateful for that.
"It was kind of a tough time in my career, having to go back to AA. But I think I made the most of it. I think I became a better player because of it, and I definitely don't take anything for granted. At that point, I couldn't wait to get started in the WHL. That was something I had looked at as a goal for a long time."A New Start
Klotz appeared in 35 games as a rookie for Red Deer in 2005-06, tallying two goals and 26 penalty minutes in a limited role. As he did throughout his tenure at the midget level, he tried to view this new stage of his career as a learning experience.
"Right away I could see the difference in quality of play in the WHL, as opposed to the leagues I had played in before that," he said. "It was a huge step up. You're basically going from a league with really young kids to one where some of these guys are one step away from the NHL. It's kind of intimidating, but it was a lot of fun."
Much to his surprise, Klotz's stay in Red Deer would be a short one. After his rookie season, he was dealt to the Saskatoon Blades, and would begin his second season in the WHL playing only two hours or so from his hometown.
"It was a big surprise, but I was thrilled to be headed back, basically, home," he said. "It was nice to be back so close to Regina, where some of my family and friends could come up to watch me play. It felt very comfortable. I really love it here."
Klotz was acquired at the suggestion of Blades scout Doug Molleken, the brother of the team's general manager and coach, Lorne Molleken. Lorne, who served as head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks from 1998-00, also played for the Philadelphia Firebirds of the long-defunct NAHL in 1976-77.
"Garrett was a very good acquisition who has added a lot of toughness to our team," Molleken explained. "He has served in the enforcer role since we got him, and understands his job, and what we ask him to do."
Klotz appeared in nearly twice as many games in 2006-07 than he had the previous season, suiting up for 63 contests with the Blades. He settled immediately into a checking line role, recording two goals, two assists and 107 penalty minutes. Along the way, he began to earn a reputation as one of the most formidable fighters in the circuit, particularly learning how to use his size to his advantage.
"I felt that I was making a lot of progress, and was really beginning to find myself as a player," Klotz said. "Last season was important. The year before in Red Deer, I learned a lot from Coach Sutter. He always taught that hard work and work ethic will determine how far you go in life. I'll always remember that.
"But Lorne is a great coach, too. I learned a lot from him, and just felt like I belonged and was a good fit in Saskatoon as soon as I got there."
|Garrett Klotz is no stranger to dropping the gloves. (photo courtesy Sastakoon Blades) |
Heading into the summer, Klotz admits that he had given some thought to the annual NHL draft.
"I was hoping to be picked, most likely in one of the later rounds," he said. "I was hoping some team would take a chance on me, but I wasn't so sure. I hadn't talked to any teams before that. I hadn't had any contact, so I just wasn't sure."
It came as quite a surprise then, when Klotz was awoken by a phone call from Lorne Molleken on the morning of June 25. Not only had Klotz been drafted, he was picked by the Flyers in the third round at 66th overall, much earlier than anyone had anticipated.
"I immediately flipped on the TV, and saw my name scrolling across the bottom of the screen. I was in shock."
General Manager Paul Holmgren made the final call on the selection, but the pick came at the suggestion of former Flyer and Phantom Mark Greig, who now works as an amateur scout with the organization.
“We were looking for a big, physical body that can skate and provide the physical element to the game,” said Greig. “One thing he can do for a big man that is tough and physical, is he can skate. That will give him a chance to play in this new game, with the way you have to be able to move. He’s a guy that gets in on the forecheck and can punish guys with his size. And of course, in the fisticuff part of is, he’s a real tough kid.”
"The Flyers were my team when I was growing up, so it just made it that much more special to find out that they had drafted me," said Klotz. "It was an unbelievable feeling, especially to be picked in the third round. I was really thrilled, and it's still incredible to think about. Paul Holmgren called me up afterward, and that's when it started to sink in, that it was real."
After the draft, Klotz was invited to attend the Flyers rookie mini-camp in late summer, as well as the team's main training camp in September.
"The rookie camp was tough," he explained with a laugh. "It's mostly a conditioning camp, as they put you through a lot of different things to see where you're at, and what you can handle physically. It was a lot of hard work, but I think I did pretty well. It was also good to meet a lot of the other prospects, and get to know them a little.
"My first NHL training camp was a great experience. It was good to get my feet wet, and learn about how things work. I was put on a team with Danny Briere
, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, and it was kind of an eye-opener to see how I compared with those guys. It was kind of weird looking over and seeing these huge stars as my teammates."
But which players did he bond with most, or receive the most advice from?
"Actually, everyone was really helpful. I wasn't around the main players too much, so I would say that I bonded with the other junior players mostly. But, if there was one pro player who was most helpful, I would say it was Kyle Greentree, who plays with the Phantoms. He took me under his wing and gave me a lot of advice. I really appreciated it.
"Overall, it was a great learning experience. You build up a lot of friendships and get a small taste of what the NHL is like, and it just makes you want to come back. I am really looking forward to next summer."
"Alot to Prove"
After the most important summer of his career, Klotz returned to Regina with a new sense of purpose. In the span of two years, he had gone from midget AAA roster cut to a third round NHL draft choice. But he did not want to rest on the laurels of his distinction as a prospect.
"I thought it was important to come back for my third season in the WHL in great shape and ready to go," he said.
Klotz got off to a decent start in his continued role as a checking line enforcer with the Blades. He tallied three points (one goal, two assists) and 59 penalty minutes in 33 games, prior to tearing his MCL just prior to Christmas. The Blades, unfortunately, got off to a rough start and currently sit in last place in the WHL's six-team East Division with 33 points in 44 games (15-26-2-1).
"The MCL thing is a setback," Klotz said. "It's about a six-week injury, so I should be back on the ice in two to three weeks. I just want to get back out there now, back on the ice to help the team. We have a lot of ground to make up in the standings, but there is still a long ways to go. We can do it. It's just going to take that continued commitment."
Coach Molleken will undoubtedly rest heavily on the experience of his veterans over the second half of the season, especially after dealing team captain Justin McRae at the trade deadline last Thursday.
"I think the older players have to take on that leadership role. That's part of being a hockey player," said Klotz. "As a 19-year-old and one of the veterans, I know that there are a lot of players on the team who are going to look up to me, no matter what type of player I am, or what type of player they are. And, I do my best to be a leader, but we all keep learning as we go."
What about Klotz's personal goals for the remainder of the season?
"Obviously, I do still have a lot to prove, but I'm ready to do it," he said. "I came into this season with a lot of goals. First is helping the team, but I also want to make a good impression on [the Flyers]. I would like to turn pro and join the Phantoms next season. That's what I'm aiming for. If not, I'll continue to do my best here, and will work toward that goal.
"To do that, I have to continue to work on my all around game. My skating has improved, but still needs to get better. And I want to work on all the little things the pro players do to be successful, at both ends of the ice."
Molleken offered his thoughts on Klotz's potential as well.
"I guess it is a little early to try to figure out what kind of pro player he can be," he said. "Of course, he's not going to be a big scorer or anything like that. He's a big, tough guy though. I think he could develop into a guy like Derek Boogaard of the Minnesota Wild. Not a guy relied on for offense, but known for his intimidation factor, and protecting his teammates.
"Garrett has really improved his skating. His strides are much smoother and less choppy. He still has to work on his puck skills, especially play away from the puck, but we've seen a lot of improvement in all of those areas also. He's a very hard worker, and we're looking forward to getting him back soon."
Greig also sees the potential for Klotz to succeed down the road with the organization.
“He’s a real raw prospect. He’s a young kid that’s got a lot to learn, but has given the Flyers staff a reason to believe that he can do it.”